Saudi Arabia’s Three Worries

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jason Burke

In a speech, Prince Turki al-Faisal outlines Saudi Arabia’s concerns relating to the Arab spring, its foreign policies and Iran.

It was a very discreet meeting deep in the English countryside. The main speaker was Prince Turki al-Faisal, one of Saudi Arabia’s best-known and best-connected royals. The audience was composed of senior American and British military officials. The location was RAF Molesworth, one of three bases used by American forces in the U.K. since the Second World War. Now a Nato intelligence centre focused on the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the sprawling compound amid green fields was an ideal venue for the sensitive topics that Turki, former head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, wanted to raise.

After an anecdote about how Franklin D. Roosevelt was told by Winston Churchill that nothing between them or their countries should be hidden, Turki warmed to his theme: “A Saudi national security doctrine for the next decade.”

For the next half an hour, the diplomat, a former ambassador to Washington and tipped to be the next foreign minister in Riyadh, entertained his audience to a sweeping survey of his country’s concerns in a region seized by momentous changes. Like Churchill, Turki said, the kingdom “had nothing to hide.”

Even if they wanted to, the leaders of the desert kingdom would have difficulty concealing their concern at the stunning developments across the Arab world. Few — excepting the vast revenues pouring in from oil selling at around $100 a barrel for much of the year — have brought much relief to Riyadh.

Stability

Chief among the challenges, from the perspective of the Saudi royal rulers, are the difficulties of preserving stability in the region when autocracies that have lasted for decades are falling one after another; of preserving security when the resultant chaos provides opportunities to all kinds of groups deemed enemies; of maintaining good relations with the west; and, perhaps most importantly of all, of ensuring that Iran, the bigger but poorer historic regional and religious rival just across the Gulf from Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces, does not emerge as the winner as the upheavals of the Arab spring continue into the summer.

“The [Saudi king], crown prince and government cannot ignore the Arab situations, we live the Arab situation and hope stability returns,” the al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper quoted Prince Nayef, the second in line to the throne and Minister of the Interior, as saying in Riyadh last week.

Iran, a majority Shia state committed to a rigorous and highly politicised Islamist ideology, remains at the heart of such fears in Saudi Arabia, a predominantly Sunni state ruled by the al-Saud family since its foundation in 1932. Recent moves such as the Saudi-inspired invitation to Morocco and Jordan, both Sunni monarchies, to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group of Sunni autocratic states, are seen by analysts as part of Riyadh’s effort to bolster defences against Tehran. So too is the deployment of Saudi troops under the umbrella of the GCC to Bahrain, where largely Shia demonstrators took to the streets to demand greater democratic rights from the Sunni rulers.

One fear in Riyadh is that the 15 per cent or so of Saudi citizens who are Shia — and who largely live in the oil-rich eastern province — might mobilise in response to an Iranian call to arms.

“It is a kind of ideological struggle,” said a Ministry of Interior official. Describing Iran as a “paper tiger” because of its “dysfunctional government … whose hold on power is only possible if it is able, as it barely is now, to maintain a level of economic prosperity that is just enough to pacify its people,” Turki, according to a copy of his speech at RAF Molesworth, said the rival state still had “steel claws”, which were “effective tools … to interfere in other countries.”

This Tehran did with “destructive” consequences in countries with very large Shia communities such as Iraq, which Turki said was taking a “sectarian, Iranian-influenced direction”, as well as states with smaller ones such as Kuwait and Lebanon. Until Iraq changed course, the former intelligence chief warned, Riyadh would not write off Baghdad’s $20bn debts or send an ambassador.

More worryingly for western diplomats was Turki’s implicit threat that if Iran looked close to obtaining nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia would follow suit. “Iran [developing] a nuclear weapon would compel Saudi Arabia … to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences,” Turki said.

A senior adviser said it was “inconceivable that there would be a day when Iran had a nuclear weapon and Saudi Arabia did not.”

“If they successfully pursue a military programme, we will have to follow suit,” he said. For the moment, however, the prince told his audience, “sanctions [against Iran] are working” and military strikes would be “counterproductive.”

One alternative, Turki told his audience, would be to “squeeze” Iran by undermining its profits from oil, explaining that this was something the Saudis, with new spare pumping capacity and deep pockets, were ideally positioned to do.

Money

Money has long been a key foreign policy tool for Saudi Arabia. Turki’s speech reveals the extent to which the kingdom is relying on its wealth to buy goodwill and support allies. In Lebanon, to counter Syrian influence and the Shia Hezbollah movement, the kingdom has spent $2.5bn since 2006.

The aim of such expenditure — only a fraction of the state’s $550bn reserves — is to minimise any potential ill-will towards Saudi Arabia among populations who have deposed rulers backed previously by Riyadh.

King Abdullah, who has ruled Saudi Arabia since 2005, initially backed long-term ally Hosni Mubarak, reportedly personally interceding on his behalf with President Barack Obama.

“The calculation in Riyadh is very simple: you cannot stop the Arab spring so the question is how to accommodate the new reality on the ground. So far there is no hostility to the Saudis in Tunisia, Egypt or elsewhere, popular or political,” said Dr. Mustafa Alani, from the Gulf Research Centre, Dubai.

One difficult issue is that of the “unwanted house guests.” Saudi Arabia has a long tradition of offering a comfortable retirement home to ex-dictators, and two of the deposed leaders — Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen — are now in the kingdom. Ben Ali is reported to have been housed in a villa on the Red Sea coast. Saleh is in a luxury hospital receiving treatment for wounds caused by the bomb that forced his flight from the country he ruled for 21 years as president, and is now under pressure from his hosts to retire permanently.

Other regional rulers are being gently pressured to ease crackdowns, in part in response to western outcry over human-rights abuses, one official said.

Yemen, however, remains a major security concern to the Saudis, who worry about the presence of Islamic militants and Shia rebels who, again, they view as proxies of Iran.

“It is very important to make sure Yemen is stable and secure and without any internal struggle,” said one Interior Ministry official.

In his speech in the U.K., Turki worried that Yemen’s more remote areas had become a safe haven for terrorism comparable to Pakistan’s tribal areas.—

Source: The Guardian

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Obama, the Anti-Churchill?

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fareed Zakaria

winston_churchill_01 If you take out just one sentence, Barack Obama’s speech on Afghanistan last week was all about focusing and limiting the scope of the U.S. mission in that country. The objectives he detailed were exclusively military: to deny al-Qaeda a haven, reverse the Taliban’s momentum and strengthen the Kabul government’s security forces. The nation that he was interested in building, he explained, was this one.

And then there was that one line: “I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.” Here lies the tension in Obama’s policy. He wants a clearer, more discriminating foreign policy, one that pares the vast commitments and open-ended interventions of the Bush era, perhaps one that is more disciplined than Bill Clinton’s approach to the world. (On the campaign trail, Obama repeatedly invoked George H.W. Bush as the president whose foreign policy he admired most.) But America is in a war that is not going well, and scaling back now would look like cutting and running. Obama is searching for a post-imperial policy in the midst of an imperial crisis. The qualified surge — send in troops to regain the momentum but then draw down — is his answer to this dilemma.

This first year of his presidency has been a window into Obama’s worldview. Once most presidents get hold of the bully pulpit, they cannot resist the temptation to become Winston Churchill. They gravitate toward grand rhetoric about freedom and tyranny and embrace the moral drama of their role as leaders of the free world. Not Obama. He has been cool and calculating, whether dealing with Russia, Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan. Obama is a realist by temperament, learning and instinct. More than any president since Richard Nixon, he has focused on defining American interests carefully, providing resources to achieve them and keeping his eyes on the prize.

“In the end,” the president said last Tuesday, “our security and leadership does not come solely from the strength of our arms.” He explained that America’s economic and technological vigor underpinned its ability to play a world role. At a small lunch with a group of columnists before his speech last week, he made clear to us that he did not want to run two wars. He seemed to be implying that the struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan were not the crucial path to America’s long-term security. He explained that challenges at home — economic growth, technological innovation, education reform — were at the heart of maintaining America’s status as a superpower. In fact, throughout history great nations have lost their way by getting bogged down in imperial missions far from home that crippled their will, strength and focus. (Sometimes even when they won they lost: Britain prevailed in the Boer War, but it broke the back of the empire.)

It is clear that Obama is attempting something quite ambitious — to reorient U.S. foreign policy toward something less extravagant and adversarial. That begins with narrowing the “war on terrorism”; scaling back the conflict with the Islamic world to those groups and countries that pose serious, direct threats to the United States; and reaching out to the rest. He has also tried to develop a better working relationship with major powers such as Russia and China, setting aside smaller issues in hopes of cooperation on bigger ones. This means departing from a bipartisan approach in which Washington’s role was to direct and hector the rest of the world, pushing regimes large and small to accept American ideas, and publicly chastising them when they refused. Obama is trying to break the dynamic that says that when an American president negotiates with the Chinese or Russians, he must return with rewards or concessions — or else he is guilty of appeasement.

For his policy to succeed, Obama will need to maintain his focus come July 2011. Afghanistan will not be transformed by that date. It will not look like France, with a strong and effective central government. The gains that will have been made will be fragile. The situation will still be somewhat unstable. But that should still be the moment to begin the transition to Afghan rule. We can find ways to secure American interests in that region more manageably. By the end of 2011, the United States will have spent 10 years, thousands of lives and $2 trillion trying to create stable, democratic governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, two of the most difficult, divided countries in the world. It will be time to move on.

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International. His e-mail address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

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Did Hitler Want War?

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Patrick J. Buchanan

poland 1933 polemap
   
Poland, 1930 German map of Poland, 1942

 

On Sept. 1, 1939, 70 years ago, the German Army crossed the Polish frontier. On Sept. 3, Britain declared war.

Six years later, 50 million Christians and Jews had perished. Britain was broken and bankrupt, Germany a smoldering ruin. Europe had served as the site of the most murderous combat known to man, and civilians had suffered worse horrors than the soldiers.

By May 1945, Red Army hordes occupied all the great capitals of Central Europe: Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Berlin. A hundred million Christians were under the heel of the most barbarous tyranny in history: the Bolshevik regime of the greatest terrorist of them all, Joseph Stalin.

What cause could justify such sacrifices?

The German-Polish war had come out of a quarrel over a town the size of Ocean City, Md., in summer. Danzig, 95 percent German, had been severed from Germany at Versailles in violation of Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination. Even British leaders thought Danzig should be returned.

Why did Warsaw not negotiate with Berlin, which was hinting at an offer of compensatory territory in Slovakia? Because the Poles had a war guarantee from Britain that, should Germany attack, Britain and her empire would come to Poland’s rescue.

But why would Britain hand an unsolicited war guarantee to a junta of Polish colonels, giving them the power to drag Britain into a second war with the most powerful nation in Europe?

Was Danzig worth a war? Unlike the 7 million Hong Kongese whom the British surrendered to Beijing, who didn’t want to go, the Danzigers were clamoring to return to Germany.

Comes the response: The war guarantee was not about Danzig, or even about Poland. It was about the moral and strategic imperative “to stop Hitler” after he showed, by tearing up the Munich pact and Czechoslovakia with it, that he was out to conquer the world. And this Nazi beast could not be allowed to do that.

If true, a fair point. Americans, after all, were prepared to use atom bombs to keep the Red Army from the Channel. But where is the evidence that Adolf Hitler, whose victims as of March 1939 were a fraction of Gen. Pinochet’s, or Fidel Castro’s, was out to conquer the world?

After Munich in 1938, Czechoslovakia did indeed crumble and come apart. Yet consider what became of its parts.

The Sudeten Germans were returned to German rule, as they wished. Poland had annexed the tiny disputed region of Teschen, where thousands of Poles lived. Hungary’s ancestral lands in the south of Slovakia had been returned to her. The Slovaks had their full independence guaranteed by Germany. As for the Czechs, they came to Berlin for the same deal as the Slovaks, but Hitler insisted they accept a protectorate.

Now one may despise what was done, but how did this partition of Czechoslovakia manifest a Hitlerian drive for world conquest?

Comes the reply: If Britain had not given the war guarantee and gone to war, after Czechoslovakia would have come Poland’s turn, then Russia’s, then France’s, then Britain’s, then the United States.

We would all be speaking German now.

But if Hitler was out to conquer the world — Britain, Africa, the Middle East, the United States, Canada, South America, India, Asia, Australia — why did he spend three years building that hugely expensive Siegfried Line to protect Germany from France? Why did he start the war with no surface fleet, no troop transports and only 29 oceangoing submarines? How do you conquer the world with a navy that can’t get out of the Baltic Sea?

If Hitler wanted the world, why did he not build strategic bombers, instead of two-engine Dorniers and Heinkels that could not even reach Britain from Germany?

Why did he let the British army go at Dunkirk?

Why did he offer the British peace, twice, after Poland fell, and again after France fell?

Why, when Paris fell, did Hitler not demand the French fleet, as the Allies demanded and got the Kaiser’s fleet? Why did he not demand bases in French-controlled Syria to attack Suez? Why did he beg Benito Mussolini not to attack Greece?

Because Hitler wanted to end the war in 1940, almost two years before the trains began to roll to the camps.

Hitler had never wanted war with Poland, but an alliance with Poland such as he had with Francisco Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, Miklos Horthy’s Hungary and Father Jozef Tiso’s Slovakia.

Indeed, why would he want war when, by 1939, he was surrounded by allied, friendly or neutral neighbors, save France. And he had written off Alsace, because reconquering Alsace meant war with France, and that meant war with Britain, whose empire he admired and whom he had always sought as an ally.

As of March 1939, Hitler did not even have a border with Russia. How then could he invade Russia?

Winston Churchill was right when he called it “The Unnecessary War” — the war that may yet prove the mortal blow to our civilization.

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